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Is Organic Food More Nutritious?
The expression “organic” describes the method farmers use to grow and process agricultural products such as vegetables, fruits, grains, and meat. Organic farming techniques trigger water and soil conservation and decrease pollution. In addition, farmers who cultivate produce and meat organically do not utilize traditional methods to fertilize, inhibit weed growth, or prevent livestock diseases. For instance, rather than utilizing chemical weed killers, organic farmers use more complex crop rotations and distribute manure or mulch to keep weeds from sprouting. Organic farmers also use different medicinal products to keep livestock healthy.
Organic vs. Natural
Many people confuse “organic” and “natural,” but they have different meanings and are not interchangeable. You might see “natural” and other terms such as “free range,” “hormone-free,” and “all natural” on food labels. These may be accurate descriptions, but they should not be confused with the term “organic.” Only foods grown within a specific U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic standard can be called organic.
So what’s going on?
Of all the food-associated counterculture catchphrases popular today, organic probably ranks the highest. Like its associated “free-range,” “hormone-free,” and the worst offenders, “natural” or “all natural,” these words permit supermarkets to dodge the strict requirements defined by the USDA.
Research reports present conflicting evidence about whether organic food is more nutritious than more common food items. Stanford University researchers concluded what many suspected all along: Organic foods are not more nutritious than conventionally farmed foods.
In an extensive review of over 200 studies scrutinizing organic and conventionally farmed produce, researchers discovered that organic food did not have more vitamins or minerals, except phosphorous, which humans receive in adequate quantities from other sources. Neither do organic foods excel in warding off food-borne diseases, even though germs found in traditional meat are more drug resistant.
Should we still choose organic?
There are important reasons other than nutrition to go organic. To begin with, USDA legislation forbids food producers from labeling foods as organic unless it can be proven that a minimum of 95% of their products are produced utilizing organic methods.
Initially, organic farming began primarily:
- From a disagreement about the environment.
- To show respect for the land where the food is cultivated.
- To assist with keeping farms plentiful and fruitful.
- To make a statement about public health.
As far as the public health issue, nowhere is concern more prevalent than with antibiotics. Traditional farms have added antibiotics to animal feed for decades; by the 1970s, scientists confirmed that antibiotics pose health hazards to the animals, where the risk is then passed onto the humans. Decreasing civilization’s chances of unintentionally creating a super-bug is good enough reason to buy organic.
In addition, more direct health advantages result from buying organic. Consumers refrain from ingesting the hormones, preservatives, and chemicals that traditional farms utilize to make their foods “appear” healthy. In the study at Stanford, only 7% of organic foods evidenced pesticide residue, compared to nearly 40% of conventionally grown foods. Of course, this does not mean that organic foods will turn you into a “super human;” it just means you will be less vulnerable to possible harmful substances.
One of the most tragic consequences of non-organic farms is the poor health of those working in the fields. One author described the disastrous effects on tomato planters and pickers in Florida because of the use of pesticides and herbicides. Therefore, for some individuals, buying organic foods is a human rights matter because unfortunately, safety rules are frequently ignored.
Overall, organic foods may not be the unique nutritional saviors we had hoped they would be. Consumers need to evaluate the benefits for themselves.
About the author:
Chris Bekermeier is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, for PacMoore, headquartered in Hammond, Indiana. PacMoore is one of the leading certified organic food manufacturers focused on processing dry ingredients for the food and pharmaceutical industries. Its capabilities include blending, spray drying, re-packaging, sifting, and consumer packaging
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.